Commentary

Seahawks riding old-school formula

Mailbag: Carroll & Co. trying to prove that defense still wins championships

Originally Published: January 22, 2014
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

From 1983 through 2005, defense meant everything in the NFL.

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and others changed that formula, turning the NFL into a quarterback-driven league.

Pete Carroll and the Seahawks are trying to bring the old formula back. The Seahawks have the No. 1 defense in terms of yards and points allowed. Stopping Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII could revive the axiom that defense wins championships.

"That statement that defense wins championships has been out there a long time," Carroll said. "I don't know that it ever went away. We'll find out."

After the 2006 season, the Colts played the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLVI. The Colts' defense ranked 21st in yards allowed (5,316) and 23rd for points allowed (360). The next season, the SB-champion New York Giants ranked 17th for points and seventh for yards. The Steelers brought back defense in 2008 by winning the Super Bowl with a top-ranked unit in both categories.

The 2009 New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl despite being 20th in points allowed and 25th in yards (5,724). The 2011 Giants were 25th and 27th. Last year's Baltimore Ravens were 12th and 17th.

Carroll's formula is to run the ball, play great defense and win the turnover battle. Denver coach John Fox isn't much different with his philosophy, but having a Hall of Fame quarterback opened his eyes to the offensive end of the game.

"When you just use Manning and [Tom] Brady, you're talking about a couple of the greatest passers to ever play this game, in great systems that really recognize how to utilize their talent at its fullest, and the best way to do that is to let those guys throw the ball all over the yard," Carroll said. "They could handle it and do it well and win championships doing it. That is what we're facing.

"This is a statement about those years before, I don't know if they were throwing the ball like that then, so this is a new challenge in that regard, but it's a great challenge for us. It's one that we're excited about because we respect him and them so much."

A statement for defense could be made in this Super Bowl.

From the inbox

Q: A record 102 players are leaving early for the NFL draft this year. Do you think this is perhaps partially an unintended consequence of the new CBA? With early first-round picks essentially being locked into their teams for five years, could they be telling players to come out early, be a second- or third-round pick (although clearly not all will be) and hit free agency two years earlier than you would by staying in college and playing yourself into the first round.

John in Spokane, Wash.

A: You get it. Waiting an extra year to potentially improve draft ratings won't be a big moneymaker unless the player has the potential to be a top-10 pick. So the idea is to get into the league and try to stay on a team roster for four years. Underclassmen can request draft projections of where they might go from professional scouts working for the league. Anyone with a second- to fourth-round grade is in a solid position to make the jump to the pros. It's the ones with the lower projections who are gambling and could be the potential losers. If they don't make rosters, they won't have their college education completed and will have to scramble to see if they can stay in the sport.

Q: Last year the Seahawks quietly extended John Schneider's contract, but I haven't heard anything about a Pete Carroll extension in the works. Have you heard anything about a possible extension for Carroll? Could it be that maybe Carroll decides to go back to coaching at the college level after next year? I couldn't imagine him leaving so soon when he's building something so great here in Seattle.

Porfirio in Seattle

A: Just checked a week ago, and there haven't been any conversations. I'm sure there will be this offseason. I would be stunned if Paul Allen doesn't get anything done. I'm sure he will. Allen had no problem giving Carroll a five-year, $33 million contract to leave Southern Cal. The richest owner in sports isn't going to lose his Super Bowl coach over money. The question for Carroll is how much longer he wants to coach. I would bet he gets a three-year deal.

Q: With Colts GM Ryan Grigson's comments about not regretting the trade for Trent Richardson, what do you think TR needs to do to get on track in Indy? He seems like he was a step slow and didn't show much quickness. Should he drop some weight, or is it more of an O-Line issue?

Sam in Westfield, Ind.

A: I think he needs to shed some pounds to regain some quickness. I'm not saying he's fat. He's not. But his quickness is missing. He doesn't seem to be hitting the hole all that well. Part of the problem is he is doing a little too much dancing into the holes. He can fix that. The offensive line also needs to improve its run blocking.

Q: Do you look for the Cardinals to draft a QB? I could tell Carson Palmer is losing arm strength. Also, will the Cards renegotiate Larry Fitzgerald's contract?

Dale in Odessa, Texas

A: Drafting a quarterback isn't a priority now. If they can get someone in the third or fourth round, that's fine. Palmer may be losing some arm strength, but he's durable and did a great job for Bruce Arians. Arians isn't a young coach. He wants to win now and the talent is there to win. It would be a big mistake not to pay Fitzgerald. He's still one of the best receivers of his era.

Q: Why aren't the players suing OTHER players? For instance, the hit that ended Kurt Warner's career in 2009 against the New Orleans Saints. It wasn't the NFL that ended Warner's career. It was Bobby McCray. I would venture to say most of the hits that generate concussions are illegal per the NFL's rulebook, which means the offending player is penalized.

Kevin in Austin, Texas

A: The answer is simple. The players are in a union. I know it's a free country, but how would it be for a union member to sue another union member in a union-sanctioned sport? Players are paid to hit other players. It's hard enough for players to come out of their careers with enough money to get through the rest of their lives. If they would have to worry about their union brethren for sanctioned hits, that would be too much to ask. That should never be an option for a football-related play.

Q: For the life of me, I cannot fathom why the Cowboys have so many fans. They are .500 since 1993. One playoff win in 14 years. Missed the playoffs the last three but yet they have fans all over the place. Every year their fans are everywhere talking trash, and every year their team disappoints. Jerry Jones wants the playoffs expanded so his 8-8 team can make it.

Matthew in Richmond, Va.

A: The Cowboys brand is one of the best in sports. It's no different than the loyal Raiders fans who have been frustrated for years. One of the beauties of pro football is how much fans invest in their franchise. I'm sorry you've seen the bad side of some fans who might have been around. Clearly, they can't brag about anything. The Cowboys have been the model of mediocrity.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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